Monday, January 05, 2009

The Wealthy Charcoal Burner: An Old Japanese Tale

There was once a wealthy individual named Chosha who lived in a certain village. He was a notorious miser who had never been known to perform a charitable act. Nevertheless, he was always the first in line to receive handouts. Every night Chosha would repair to the godown where his valuables were stored, and there he would open a stout box wherein his gold coins were kept. These he would count, first the large, then the small. Nothing in the world gave him so much pleasure as the feel of the gold coins in his hand and their dull gleam in the light of a guttering candle. One day Chosha went to the godown as usual, and he received a terrible shock. For no matter how many times he recounted his hoard, there was no escaping the awful truth: some of the gold pieces were missing! "How can this be?" he wondered aloud. "I have never spent a single one." Any yet the inescapable fact remained: there were fewer gold pieces, and his moneybags were perceptibly lighter. The next night Chosha discovered that even more of his gold had disappeared. "Could it have been a thief?" he asked, looking fearfully into the shadowy corners of the storeroom. He waited and waited , but no burglar appeared to explain the mystery. He felt his eyes becoming heavy with sleep and was composing himself to spend the rest of the night in the godown when he sat bolt upright. A strange clinking sound reached his ears, issuing from somewhere in the darkness. "What's that sound? There's no one here but me!" Chosha almost shouted in fright. Peering into the midnight darkness of the storeroom, Chosha beheld a mysterious sight. Out of the box in which he kept his money issued a golden stream. As if that weren't enough, as the gold coins rose to float about the room above Chosha's head, they began conversing in the following manner: "We won't remain in this house any longer. Our owner, Chosha, doesn't know the meaning of charity. We weren't made simply to be hoarded. Let's escape from this place at once." So saying, the gold pieces moved like a swarm of bees toward the door. "Hey, wait!You belong to me. Don't you go anywhere!" yelled Chosha. Unavailingly, however, for without further ado the gold coins flew out of the godown in one body, jingling into the night. Chosha dashed out of the storeroom in pursuit of his money but, in an instant, the gold pieces disappeared from sight. Continuing their flight until they were deep in the mountains, Chosha's gold coins paused to consider their final destination. "Now that we have left Chosha, where shall we go?" asked some of them, whereupon one of the small coins suggested the following. "There lives in these parts a charcoal burner, one Tota. This Tota is a hard worker, but he is quite poor. Even so, Tota is the first to help others in distress." Another of the coins piped up, "That reminds me of a story I recently heard concerning a poor charcoal burner. It seems the man anonymously gave all the money he had saved to a poor bedridden neighbor. It must have been Tota." Another added, "That settles it! We're off to Tota's house." All of this took place unbeknownst to Tota, of course, who at that time was sleeping the sleep of the just. Imagine his surprise, therefore, when he awoke the next morning to find a considerable treasure in gold coins piled up before his door. Quickly gathering the coins together, Tota set off for the village, where he shared his unlooked for fortune with the needy. With what he retained for himself he built a house. Soon thereafter he married. His charcoal business thrived, and in due course Tota became headman of the village and its wealthiest denizen.
Copyright 2009, Brian Southwick

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